0 Comments Published on October 12th, 2014 by Tonya Pierce
The Jurassic Park Law OfficeIn 1990 when I began my career as a paralegal, computers were still relatively new in most law firms. The most progressive law firms and larger firms had already seen the value of technology; however, smaller firms with older attorneys were not as willing to invest the time or money in updating their systems. My first paralegal job was for an attorney in his forties who practiced real estate law, family law and estate law. “Set in his ways” does not even begin to describe this attorney. In fact, he had not even adopted a Dictaphone for his dictation - - I had to try to decipher his cryptic handwriting on a legal pad! He would draft pleadings on legal pads for me to type. To say that he was not open to technology was an understatement. Because I was very young and this was my first paralegal position, I did not feel comfortable making an argument for the use of technology; however, I could already see how even basic tools would help solve some of our problems. For example, when a client came into the office for a Last Will and Testament, the last three pages (legal size paper) were identical in every will. The only difference was changing the references from male to female based on the client. Unfortunately, most clients wanted to make changes to the will once they reviewed them. Because the wills were typed on an old-fashioned typewriter, you had to re-type the entire document in most cases as the edits caused the page numbers to change. Something that should have taken just a few minutes to change, took thirty minutes or more even for a fast typist.
A New HopeThis was my first victory – convincing the attorney to buy a typewriter with a memory feature. For young paralegals, this may seem like an insignificant victory compared to purchasing a computer; however, a memory typewriter allowed me to store the last three pages of both wills so that we never needed to type those pages again. We simply hit a few keys and the typewriter did the rest. This also was a huge help when doing a real estate close because we could type the property description once and insert it into the deed, mortgage and any other document that required a property description rather than typing the entire half-page property description on numerous documents. It took over a year to convince the attorney that the new memory typewriter was paying for itself by saving the staff time and allowing us to do more work. I then began to work on computers for the office. At that time, banks sent loan closing documents to the attorney to complete including the HUD Settlement Statement. The HUD statement required many calculations to complete and would often change several times before being signed at the real estate closing. Most lenders did not permit whiteout or erasing of any type on the original HUD statement; therefore, when one figure changed, you had to re-type the entire HUD statement. I spent most of my time duplicating work because the attorney refused to adopt new technology that saved time, resources and money.
Escape From The Technophobe Law OfficeAfter a few years, I left that attorney to work for a much younger attorney in his twenties. This attorney embraced computers and had purchased the real estate closing software that allowed me to enter the figures for the HUD statement, make changes in seconds and print checks directly from the statement. I now could complete a loan closing package in an hour rather than hours and make changes in seconds. My productivity increased dramatically as I could now handle three or four times the number of closings in a week. This made my life easier but more importantly; it made more money for the attorney. However, even attorneys who are open to technology become set in their ways. Unless you can show the attorney how technology will benefit the bottom line, many attorneys are not open to changing something that “is not broken” and has been working for many years.
How Can a Paralegal Convince an Attorney to Adopt New Technology?If you are a paralegal or even an attorney who still prefers to work with paper and a pen, the first step you need to take is to identify a problem that technology would solve and then demonstrate how technology will increase the profits of the law firm. It is all about profits - - if you can show an attorney that he or she can increase revenue while decreasing overhead, the attorney is more inclined to invest in new technology. Whether that is a new computer system that networks the entire office so that all employees can work together to increase productivity or using the internet for advertising to increase business, technology is a way to improve a law firm’s profit margin while making each person in the firm more productive.
Tips for Convincing Your Attorney to Take the Technology PlungeIf you are working for a technophobe attorney, you must proceed with caution as these types of attorneys resist change. If they have a cell phone, it is probably a small flip phone without any features beyond the capacity to make and receive telephone calls. For the attorney to be receptive to new technology, he or she will need to be convinced that the initial investment will increase profits by reducing overhead and increasing efficiency. To do this, you must do your research.
1. ID Problem Or Opportunity For Efficiency GainsBegin by identifying a problem that could be solved with the use of technology. Let's take as an example: generating attorney billing for client invoices. Specialized software allows attorneys and staff to track every action, including telephone calls and emails, so that the client may be billed for every minute the firm spends on his or her file. In order to convince your attorney that billing software will increase profits, you must do your homework.
- First, track the amount of time that it takes a staff person to go through a file to generate billing for each attorney and staff person.
- Then locate examples of items that were missed such as an office conference between the paralegal and the attorney to discuss potential defenses and legal research.
- Research the various billing software applications available including the functions available, the price, how user friendly each application is for the attorney, etc.
- Have three options available for the attorney to review.
- If possible, choose options that allow a free 30-day trial period to “test run” the software.
- Schedule a demonstration when the attorney has enough time to careful consider your presentation.
- Be prepared to demonstrate how the software will increase efficiency while increasing the firm’s profit margin (have real values such as the dollar amount saved in staff time by using the software as well as additional income that is being missed under the old system).
2. Elicit Other AttorneysIf you know of other attorneys who have successfully made the transition or implemented the technology you are seeking to utilize in your own firm, use the contacts as potential references for your attorney. Schedule telephone conferences or lunch meetings for the techno-attorney to discuss how much smoother his office runs, how much money he is generating and how he wishes he would have done this sooner rather than later.
3. Highlight Other Ways Technology Has HelpedBelieve it or not, some attorneys actually will say they aren't interested in saving time...they do bill by the hour after all. If you hear this from your attorney, ask him or her why they use email. After all, they'd be able to bill the client much more if they hand wrote all correspondence! This example highlights the silliness of the argument that saving time is "bad for business." To the contrary, the efficient firms are the ones getting the most clients and growing their business.
4. Be Patient!And finally, for your own sanity...you must be patient! Remember, technophobes do not change overnight. You may console yourself to know that good technology will be adopted eventually. After all, 30 years ago things like cell phones were a novelty, email was unheard of, and computers were for hobbyists. Now its impossible to imagine life without these things.
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).